A parent of a child with intellectual disabilities working at Altus Enterprises is defending the company - even though its employees are being paid just a fraction of the adult minimum wage.

Glenys Thompson, whose intellectually disabled daughter works there two days a week, also said that people with physical disabilities are vastly different to those who are mentally disabled.

Her comments were in response to a Herald report on a blind woman - who had been working in Altus on $2.30 an hour untangling Air NZ earphones - being offered a job that paid her the minimum wage of $17.70 per hour by The Cookie Project.

Parveen Shanker is employed as a blind baker at The Cookie Project. Photo / Doug Sherring
Parveen Shanker is employed as a blind baker at The Cookie Project. Photo / Doug Sherring

The Cookie Project is a social enterprise that employs 20 people with disabilities. It recently completed an expansion exercise, and was now taking on more blind staff.

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"The blind worker was obviously in the wrong environment, and should not be allowed to ruin what works for all the others," Thompson said.

"The physically disabled are vastly different to the mentally disabled and places like Altus should be expanded throughout the country, not destroyed."

She said Altus provided a "wonderful work environment" for her daughter, who loved going to work.

"Combined with her assisted living allowance and the $4 per hour she earns, she gets roughly the minimum wage. We would be happy if it was $0 per hour," Thompson said.

Her daughter works with a group of peers, she said, and no longer felt isolated and was "immensely proud to untangle the headphones".

"She has unlimited sick leave, and if she lost the job her benefit would still support her without the stress of looking for something else," Thompson said.

Thompson added that Air NZ should also be lauded for supporting Altus in providing special needs people work in a safe environment that was free from the bullying they normally experienced elsewhere.

"This company is a godsend to us and our daughter and the other 200 disabled there, and 900 nationwide," Thompson said.

There are 975 minimum wage exemptions issued to businesses that allowed them to legally pay its employees below the minimum wage, according to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

The scheme, which is currently being reviewed, is described as "discriminatory" by Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said it was one of more than 50 New Zealand companies that contract social enterprise Altus Enterprises to carry out work.

Altus provides employment for people with disabilities and currently has over 200 staff.

"As you are aware, Altus employees get their disability benefits while employed, and in addition are paid by Altus which determines individual pay rates for each employee," she said.

"Altus employees' wages are set in conjunction with a Labour inspector and their benefits are reassessed slightly to allow for their wages."